2017-05-18 / Arts & Entertainment News

Hibiscus Festival moves to History Park


Annalise Tooker, left, last year’s Queen Junior Miss Hibiscus 10-14 Years Old, and Mackenzie Hepp. 
LINEBERRY / FLORIDA WEEKLY Annalise Tooker, left, last year’s Queen Junior Miss Hibiscus 10-14 Years Old, and Mackenzie Hepp. LINEBERRY / FLORIDA WEEKLY The late Harry Goulding would be proud that Punta Gorda’s annual Hibiscus Festival will soldier on despite the loss of its traditional venue.

Mr. Goulding was, of course, responsible for Punta Gorda being crowned “The City of Hibiscus.” Before the Punta Gorda native’s death at 83 from lung cancer in 1992, Mr. Goulding became recognized as one of the world’s most prolific hybridizers, raising about 60,000 varieties of hibiscus over 60 years, and winning many accolades and awards, including the American Hibiscus Society’s “Best in the World” category five times.

Former Punta Gorda City Council member Dawn MacGibbon, who lived near Mr. Goulding, decided to honor the man and the flower that became his legacy by organizing the first Hibiscus Festival, which debuted in 2004.


A trio of hibiscus blooms, the official city flower of Punta Gorda — and the inspiration behind the annual Hibiscus Festival. 
ALEX ARATARI / FLORIDA WEEKLY A trio of hibiscus blooms, the official city flower of Punta Gorda — and the inspiration behind the annual Hibiscus Festival. ALEX ARATARI / FLORIDA WEEKLY “Every year we try to draw attention, and we get people coming from all over the southern part of Florida and draw to our attention to the fact that a lot of the hibiscus they see elsewhere in the state was hybridized in this area by Harry Goulding,” said Stan Munson, whose wife, Dianne, has noted that the couple is the last remaining of the original organizers.

For 13 years, the Hibiscus Festival has been on the calendar for Gilchrist Park. But with this year’s construction, the event has had to move to the Punta Gorda History Park at 501 Shreve St. Because of the farmers market that gathers there every Sunday, the festival is being cut from three days to two — Friday and Saturday — with the Thursday night kickoff featuring the Guitar Army for good measure. The children’s play area, which was a usual staple of the event, is another casualty being removed due to the change of venue.

Friday features entertainment and shopping, with a dinner and a concert from 6-10 p.m. Saturday is the Lil’ Miss Hibiscus Pageant and the crowning of the king and queen. And there will be the usual plant vendors, food, arts and crafts, antique car display and musicians.

“We estimate that about 2,000 or 3,000 people come to the festival,” Mr. Munson said. “Some spend a half-hour walking around, they buy a plant, take it back to their car and go home. There is not a huge crowd at any point, although it gets real busy Friday and Saturday mornings.”

At the heart of the festivities, of course, there are the plants, themselves. According to the University of Florida Environmental Horticulture Department, the hibiscus — known as the “Queen of Tropical Flowers,” signifying peace and happiness — “is believed to be native to China and was introduced to Florida by way of the South Pacific and Hawaii.”

It is the national flower of Malaysia, South Korea, Haiti, and the Conch Republic, the state flower of Hawaii, and city flower of Punta Gorda. And that last is cause for celebration. ¦

What: The 13th annual Punta Gorda Hibiscus Festival

>> When: 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, May 18; 9
a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, May 19; and 9 a.m.
to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 20
>> Where: Punta Gorda History Park, 501
Shreve St., Punta Gorda
>> Admission: $1
>> Info: www.thehibiscusfestival.com

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